Having glad-handed with President Obama just this morning, and complained of a "sluggish global economy," that ironically his credit-fuelled mal-investment maelstrom enabled via its deflationary forces, Chinese President Xi appears to have moved on from currency wars to protectionism as WSJ reports China is tightening its grip on cross-border e-commerce, imposing a new tax system on all overseas purchases. While Trumpian tariffs are dismissed as crazy talk by America's establishment, it seems China took first-mover advantage to boost "Made-in-China" products at the expense of the rest of the world.
The changes, announced by the Finance Ministry last week, include raising the so-called parcel tax that is currently imposed on overseas retail products that e-commerce firms ship into China. On top of that, such goods sent directly to consumers will now be treated as imports and will be subject to tariffs and value-added and consumption taxes, whose rates vary depending on the type and value of goods.
The ministry said the changes, which become effective April 8, are intended to put foreign and domestic products on an equal footing. But industry analysts said the move seems designed to give a boost to “made-in-China” products and could dent a small, but growing market for foreign goods sold by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., JD.com Inc. and other e-commerce players.
The new levies could dampen some demand, just as an increasing number of retailers world-wide are hoping to sell into China, says Charles Whiteman, senior vice president of client services for MotionPoint, a technology company that helps international retailers sync their e-commerce websites across languages and currencies.
“Increases in prices always have the effect of driving demand down,” but the effect will be “modest,” Mr. Whiteman said. “It probably won’t be too noticeable for branded products,” which consumers are willing to pay a premium for.
The changes in taxes come as the Chinese economy is slowing down and the deceleration is crimping tax revenues. Tax revenues grew 4.8% last year, compared with 7.8% in 2014. Beijing is looking for new sources of growth and revenue, and is trying to guide the economy to rely more on consumption and less on investment and industry. At the same time, Beijing is anxious to build up domestic businesses to provide jobs.
Calculating the impact of the changes on merchandise is difficult given that different categories of goods carry different rates. A company that sells infant formula milk, for example, will pay nearly 12% more in taxes if the sale is under 500 yuan because previous exemptions don’t apply, according to Mr. Tan, the analyst.
Luxury goods like jewelry will see extra taxes between 9% and 17%, while some levies on personal-hygiene and cosmetic products could fall since the changes rescind the previous heavier parcel tax on those products.
So President Obama - what will you do now? Perhaps Mr. Trump is worth talking to for some ideas?